How hard is too hard?

For years I resisted the idea of adding a Saturday night large group experience to our NSC calendar.  It felt TOO HARD for me to think about speaking both times. It seemed to me that my weekend would be totally taken over by the relentless consistency of attending Saturday night and Sunday morning meetings.  But there were compelling reasons to do so and I believed that I could, even wanted to, do hard things for the cause that NSC fights to support. It was an adjustment. Sometimes it is hard. But it is so worth it.  In the summer, with vacations and all, our attendance fluctuates wildly and sometimes our team is tempted to go to one service. But we look around and realize that if we did that someone would be left out. And we notice that some people come every single stinking week and that means that they are doing a hard thing.  WE CAN DO HARD THINGS.


After we wrap our mind around and accept the belief that when the purpose matters even if the action is hard, we do it anyway, an interesting thing happens.  Suddenly, what I feared would be hard doesn’t feel hard at all. AA talks about this effect in its 12 promises. In that document, AAers are promised things like:  amazement in the process, new freedom, new happiness, no regrets, serenity and peace, loss of self-pity, self-seeking and selfishness, fear and insecurity will slip away.  All these beautiful gifts are the by-product of doing the next right thing, day after day after day. It isn’t so much a big grand gesture as it is having the grit to stay present to the work in a relentlessly consistent manner.


Resilient people learn how to get clear about the definition of HARD. You know what is really hard?  Losing your kid to an overdose. Being homeless. Finding out your spouse has been cheating on you. Discovering that your best friend embezzled from your business and you are going to lose everything. Jail time.  DUI’s. Divorce. That stuff is hard.


People going through extremely hard times deserve to have a place to come to for solace.  Ultimately, what I learned is that having two meetings every weekend is more about privilege and purpose and meaning than it is about convenience.  


What conveniences are you holding onto that are actually holding your back?

Re-establishing a sense of purpose

Complaining is a way we discharge our anxiety - and I am really, really good at it.  But it is NOT a key component for building a decent life. One common complaint I hear comes from parents who report to me about how often their children complain about their NA or AA meetings.  I understand that there is plenty to complain about in almost every area of recovery work. But much of it misses the point.


Where else can someone go who has totally wrecked their life and find a whole room full of people who have wrecked their lives in pretty much the exact same way?  Where else are substance use disorder sufferers provided an opportunity to serve? Make coffee. Throw a dollar in a basket. Participate in a meeting. Go on a twelve step call.  Go out to eat afterwards with a group of fellow attendees. Give someone a ride. Ask for a ride and be given one without feeling like a burden? Be able to tell the truth about your life and have everyone nod in understanding and agreement?


Mutual aid societies and other organizations can serve as venues for helping others find purpose and meaning in their lives.  People who believe they have purpose and meaning in their daily living turn out to be amazingly resilient. This resiliency allows people to experience trauma without being wrecked by it.


Many people who struggle with stress-related diseases, depression, anxiety, substance use disorder and more...are folks who have experienced trauma!  In fact, we all experience trauma to one degree or another, don’t we?


Why is it that some of us can be traumatized and recover, even find meaning in it and eventually thrive after it while others cannot?  It is not the degree of the trauma, or even the frequency that determines our reaction. It is all about the resiliency.


Want to help people learn how to do hard things?  Support the tribes and causes that allow others to find meaning and purpose in their lives.  Even when it is hard.


Another component of resilience is the capacity to be flexible.  This is also key for emotional adjustment and maturity. Rigidity is not good for us.  I understand this because I read a lot of true crime books and of course, binge watch Criminal Minds like it is a part time job.  The really psychopathic demons on those shows inevitably are compulsive neat freaks. I am not suggesting that excessively neat people are serial killers but extreme rigidity is problematic!  The capacity to be flexible in terms of how we think, what we do, and even our core beliefs create the strength within us to have more resilience than the guy who demands precision and a rigid routine as a lifestyle choice.


Don’t buy the serial killer idea?  Ok, I can be FLEXIBLE.


Did you know that research indicates that folks who have messy offices tend to be more creative and better problem solvers than someone whose desk is arranged with military precision?


The promises of AA and the program itself asks participants to dare to believe that their whole attitude and outlook on life will change.  They expect and validate the concept of service to others. They talk about giving away what you have in order to keep what you received (meaning the gift of sobriety) through sharing experiences, strength and hope. This is often in the form of “12 stepping” and it involves going to help fellow sufferers in their time of need.  This is difficult and usually inconvenient work. I have found that overdoses and rough landings on “bottoms” rarely occur during office hours. This requires massive amounts of flexibility but lest we forget, it holds the promise of a better life for those who practice this service work.


How is your flexibility?  Are you able to bend your preferences to a higher power?  Can you go with the flow? Or do others find you difficult?

Belonging leads to resilience

If you participate at NSC this first point is going to feel sooo boring, but it is further confirmation that we are onto something when we nag, cajole, and entice our tribe to show up for one another!


It turns out that relationships are a key factor in whether or not a person has the capacity for resilience.  Resilient people have relationships (in and outside of the family) that offer love, encouragement, reassurance, acceptance, validation and the occasional dollop of accountability.  Being connected to others helps us practice skills necessary for sturdiness in the face of suffering and provide soft places to land when we trip and fall.


This is absolutely an essential thing to add to a life plan for those seeking a better life.  Because this is true, I continue my faithful support of the mutual aid societies as a viable element of any treatment plan.


Why?  Glad you asked!!


First, notice the language of AA, etc.  It’s “WE” this and “WE” that. They even have a saying, “Keep coming back; it works if you work it!”  Which is catchy and makes for a nice little chant at the end of a meeting - but here’s the rest of the story.


The mutual aid societies never ask us to get well in order to belong.  The only requirement for joining is the DESIRE to get sober. This is a beautiful way for desperate people to find a sense of belonging and connection and even shared purpose (get sober).  It turns out all of these elements help build...what? Yes! Resilience! Go team!


Are you taking the 12 steps for granted?  Do you long for something newer, shinier, perkier?  Maybe rethink that position!